Thursday, May 20, 2010
JAXA / Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd.
ONWARD TO VENUS! At 2:58 PM, Pacific Daylight Time today (6:58 AM, Japan Time on May 21), an H-IIA rocket carrying the Akatsuki spacecraft and IKAROS (Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun) solar sail lifted off from Tanegashima Space Center in Japan. Akatsuki, originally known as PLANET-C and the Venus Climate Orbiter, will take around 6 months to reach Venus (where Akatsuki will arrive by December 7). Dubbed the world’s first interplanetary weather satellite, Akatsuki will spend at least 2 years studying the greenhouse planet...generating 3-D computer models of high-speed winds in the upper atmosphere of Venus, and detecting any lightning that may exist in the thick clouds of this hellish world.
Traveling along with Akatsuki into space were 4 university-built miniature satellites (3 of them settled in low-Earth orbit shortly after launch; a payload known as UNITEC-1 is the only other satellite placed on an Earth-escape trajectory with Akatsuki and IKAROS) and IKAROS. Unlike Akatsuki however, IKAROS will approach Venus but not settle into orbit around it. Instead, IKAROS will fly past Venus as the solar sail heads for the far side of the Sun, which should take 3 years. IKAROS will only be propelled by the sunlight that is reflected off its 66-feet-wide polyimide sail; the fuel that is onboard the spacecraft is used to adjust the orientation of the sail (by positioning the main spacecraft bus at a certain angle in space) when IKAROS is changing direction in flight. A small free-floating camera will be ejected from IKAROS to photograph the sail in its entirety once it (successfully) unfurls after launch.
In case you’re wondering why I’ve been talking about these two missions so much this year, it’s because Akatsuki and IKAROS—like Dawn, Deep Impact, Phoenix, Kaguya, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Kepler before them—are carrying (or carried...as in the case with Deep Impact and Kaguya) my name in space. Onboard Akatsuki itself are several aluminum plates that contain the names and messages of 260,214 people. These names and messages were submitted online and via snail mail between late October of 2009 and January 10 of this year [by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and The Planetary Society based in Pasadena, California]. The plates were installed onto Akatsuki in mid-March.
Onboard IKAROS are various aluminum plates and a DVD that contain a total of 152,248 names and messages...which were submitted online and via snail mail between early December of 2009 and March 22 of this year (also by JAXA and The Planetary Society). The plates are stored in 3 metal boxes that are each attached to 3 of the 4 outer corners of IKAROS’ square-shaped sail. These plates contain 63,248 names and messages that were collected by JAXA itself. Attached to the bottom of IKAROS is the DVD...which contains 89,000 names and messages that were collected by The Planetary Society. The aluminum plates were installed onto IKAROS on April 6, and the DVD was installed on April 24 (both days on Japan time), respectively.
JAXA / The Planetary Society
Here is a pair of certificates commemorating my participation in these two intriguing missions. Cheers to JAXA!